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Iona College Pushed False Narrative to Whip Students into Fear Over New Rochelle Student Housing Business Registration Program

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Iona College Pushed False Narrative to Whip Students into Fear Over New Rochelle Student Housing Business Registration Program

November 11, 2016 - 00:24

Kayla Kosack addresses New Rochelle City Council on November 9, 2016

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Iona College is manipulating students and parents into delusional, illogical hysterics as they seek repeal of a city ordinance requiring owners of Student Housing Businesses to register their properties with the City of New Rochelle, subjecting them to fire safety and building code inspections. Over the years, Iona College has earned millions in profits from illegal student housing, using sub-standard and overcrowded student housing to manage excess student capacity due to a limit on available on-campus and near-campus dormitory space.

Iona College administrators and student leaders have combined to promote a false narrative, claiming that the ordinance was intended to place student safety at risk by putting student’s personal information online by passing a law behind closed doors without an opportunity for input by the Iona College community.

The ordinance, passed over the summer, requires property owners to register properties housing 3 or more students. There has been no similar pushback from Monroe College or The College of New Rochelle, the two other post-secondary educational institutions in New Rochelle.

The ordinance was proposed by Council Member Barry Fertel, whose council district includes much of the area around Iona College and New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. The Mayor described the ordinance as a tool to help accomplish good “town-gown” relations, noting that while it would not be a “cure all” it would be “another arrow in the quiver”.

The stated purpose of the Student Housing Business Registration program is to create an online directory of student housing businesses in an effort to protect the safety of students from overcrowding situations and to mitigate any negative impacts such uses may have on the surrounding neighborhoods. This would occur because local agents such as building inspectors and fire inspectors would have access to the buildings and will achieve better compliance with code and thereby protect the safety of students.

The ordinance was first discussed at a City Council Committee of the Whole Meeting on July 12, 2016.  The original proposal was to incorporate a Student Housing Businesses Registration program within the existing ordinance on Business Registration. The Council concluded that as student housing is not an occupation it did not make sense to amend the Business Registration ordinance; student housing is a business so it should be covered under its own ordinance. The ordinance was approved unanimously, 7-0, at the next Regular Legislative Meeting of the City Council on July 19.

Under the new ordinance, owners of Student Housing Businesses must register their properties and submit to periodic inspections of their properties by the New Rochelle Department of Development, Bureau of Buildings and/or the New Rochelle Fire Department. Failure to register can result in a minimum fine of $250 per day and a maximum fine of $2,500 for a first offense and a minimum fine of $500 per day for all subsequent offenses with a maximum fine of $2,500.

Iona College officials were made aware of the new ordinance in July, during the week the new ordinance was scheduled for a vote by City Council. A series of discussions and meetings between the college and the city government took place without concern or incident in the months of July, August and September.

Expressions of concern with the ordinance first occurred only after Talk of the Sound published an article on October 7: New Rochelle Student Housing Business Registration Property List and Google Map

Administration officials and students who had not expressed any concerns with the ordinance suddenly erupted, angrily denouncing the ordinance and article as providing a “road map” for predators and offenders looking to sexually assault Iona College students because there are registered sex offenders living in New Rochelle who could use the list of addresses to locate potential sexual assault victims. They have also claimed that student housing locations might be targeted by burglars using the list and map during school vacations when some student housing may be unoccupied.

“Iona College, our students and their parents are upset both by the ordinance and the article which contains a list of addresses and a map,” said Brian Beyrer, the school’s Director of College & Athletics Communication. “We believe it poses a potential safety risk for the students of Iona.”

Students and parents have reached out to City officials to demand repeal of the law and contacted Talk of the Sound to demand the article be taken down. Some parents have threatened litigation against Talk of the Sound or made threats of physical violence or both. Landlords have also complained about the ordinance and threatened litigation against the City of New Rochelle.

Each of the three groups — Iona College, Iona Students/Parents and Landlords — benefit from illegal student housing.

Iona College profits from illegal student housing because without that “extra” housing students might transfer, costing the school almost $40,000 a year in tuition per student. Landlords profit from illegal student housing through lower costs to maintain rental properties, avoiding compliance with city building and fire codes and crowding too many students into few spaces. Student and parents also “profit” from illegal student housing in the form of lower costs for sub-standard and/or overcrowded housing. 

Iona has, for years, knowingly placed students in overcrowded housing situations - including their own dorms and off-campus housing. The college maintains a database of property owners in New Rochelle willing to rent space to Iona students and knows which students are located in specific off-campus housing structures.

There is no small degree of hypocrisy in Iona College deliberately stirring up students and parents to oppose the new ordinance when, for years, Iona College itself has maintained its own online listing of off-campus student housing on their web site — and continues to do so today.

Off-campus student housing locations for Iona students are currently listed on the Iona College web site at the following locations:

  • 766 North Avenue
  • President Street
  • Halcyon Terrace
  • 8 Eastchester Road
  • 10 Eastchester Road
  • 12 Eastchester Road
  • Hubert Place

The Iona web site not only lists the addresses but provides photographs of the locations, maps of the area, detailed descriptions of the properties and, in some cases, virtual tours of the buildings which include web pages such as Apartments at EastchesterGraduate Student Housing at IonaConese Hall on North AvenueLoftus Hall on North AvenueNorth Avenue Residence HallIona College Campus Map and Campus Virtual Tour

The web site also features three off-campus dorms on North Avenue, across the street from the Iona Campus, which are also listed online with photos, maps and virtual tours.

The controversy came to a head at last night’s City Council meeting where two Iona College officials accompanied half a dozen students as the group addressed council members during the Citizens to be Heard portion of the public meeting.

Denise Hopkins, Vice President for Student Life at Iona College,  accused the City Council of “singling out students, making them potential targets of crime” and compounded this by violating student privacy by “electing to release information on student housing under a Freedom of Information request”.

Michele Nelson, Director of Off-Campus and Commuter Services, called on the City Council to repeal the ordinance, stating there is “no question the ordinance put my student’s at risk”, adding that “students have reported ‘peepers’ and ‘break-ins’. Nelson wrote a letter to Neighborhood Association Leaders within the area around the college, dated November 1, in which she calls on the City of New Rochelle to “change the classification of the information currently available via a FOIL request” and to repeal the new ordinance. After the meeting, Nelson told Council Member Lou Trangucci that Iona listing student housing on its web site was different because the properties listed on their web site had video cameras and were patrolled by Iona security.

Kathleen Feenan, an Iona College senior accused the City Council of “not putting the lives of students first” as a result of what she described as an “unethical” and “wrong” decision made “beyond closed doors”.

Matthew Ricker, an Iona College junior who grew up in New Rochelle, said the ordinance violated student rights, adding “there is no reason to have the information out there.”

Hannah Finch, an Iona student, said she knows someone who was assaulted.

Rachel Baio, an Iona student, said she was upset with the City making the addresses of students available to the public moments after stating her student address in Halcyon Park at a televised public meeting. She said she was often afraid when she walked from her off-campus house to the college. She said she was particularly upset with Mayor Bramson for telling another student that he would only take action to repeal the law if a student was sexually assaulted, asking Bramson if he would need medical evidence of a sexual assault to take action. Bramson had not said anything like this but gave up trying to explain that to Baio.

Kayla Kosack, President of the Iona Student Government Association, advanced claims she made in an Open Letter to Mayor Noam Bramson dated November 3rd, since published on Facebook. She claimed that Iona students were “victims” of an ordinance passed “without a hearing” which mandates that landlords provide the addresses of students living off-campus and that all this was done “without providing those that have been effected an opportunity to speak”.

In reality, the Student Housing Registration ordinance was discussed in an open public meeting on July 12, 2016. There were no Executive Session meetings or “closed door” meetings. There is no requirement that the City hold a public hearing prior to adopting an ordinance. There was, however, a Citizens to be Heard session that same evening, a full week before the proposed ordinance was adopted by the City Council on July 19. The ordinance does not require a landlord provide the addresses of students living off-campus.

Prior to the City Council vote, on July 18, City of New Rochelle Business Ambassador Lisa Davis, contacted Michele Nelson of the Iona College Off-Campus Task Force to discuss the Student Housing Registration ordinance. Nelson responded within minutes to Davis’ “heads up” email.

On August 9, Davis reached out again to Nelson providing documents related to the new ordinance and seeking to set up a meeting to discuss Iona College assisting in City outreach to “known student housing property owners”, seeking a list of owners who typically rent to Iona students or a list of properties.

A week later, on August 16, Nelson replied to the email from Davis, confirming receipt of documents pertaining to the new ordinance, stating she would review the ordinance with Iona’s lawyers and proposing they meet to discuss the ordinance.

At no time during the summer of 2016 did anyone from Iona College express any concern to anyone about the ordinance.

On August 29, the City of New Rochelle issued a press release announcing the new city ordinance on Student Housing Registration.

This press release was picked up and widely reported in many media outlets including Journal News, Westchester County Business Journal, Patch, Talk of the Sound, Mid-Hudson News and news aggregators like Google News, Reddit and Topix.coun

There was no comment from Iona College officials in any of the news accounts of the new ordinance.

Two weeks later, on September 2, Nelson wrote back to inform Davis that Iona had, per Davis’ request for help, forwarded a letter to “any landlord that’s ever attempted to post a rental on the off-campus rental listing” and encouraged the City to have the Bureau of Buildings identify landlords who violate the new ordinance and/or have received student housing complaints about in the past.

In the same letter, Nelson invited Davis to present on the new student housing registration ordinance at an upcoming Iona Off-Campus Task Force meeting.

There was another Citizens to be Heard session on September 12.

The Iona College Off-Campus Task Force held a meeting on September 19 where Lisa Davis gave her presentation on the new ordinance and took questions.

There was another Citizens to be Heard session on October 4.

The Talk of the Sound story ran on October 7.

On October 28, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson met with representatives of the Iona Student Government and took questions.

In short, there were many opportunities long before last night for Iona College administrators and students to get more information, ask questions and speak out over the past four months including before the ordinance was passed on July 19, in the months before the Talk of the Sound articles ran on October 7 and after the article ran.

Iona College was fully in the loop, even prior to the City Council voting to adopt the resolution and, for months, had no complaints, expressed support for the ordinance and cooperated in city efforts to reach out to landlords and increase compliance with the ordinance.

As for Talk of the Sound obtaining the public records described in the ordinance which were always intended to be made public — no municipality has the authority to supersede state law by “re-classifying” public records as exempt from disclosure. The City did not “elect” to provide information under the Freedom of Information Law. The City had no choice; it is required under New York State statute to comply with any lawful Freedom of Information request including the one made for the Talk of the Sound article.

Despite claims to the contrary, the City did not collect or release any personally identifiable information about students and Talk of the Sound did not publish any personally identifiable information.

Kosack, the Iona Student Government President, refers repeatedly to “fear and paranoia” gripping student “victims” of the new ordinance. While little else is accurate or plausible in her letter, the use of the term “paranoia” appears to be one of the few things she got right although the use of “fear” and “paranoia” in the same sentence is redundant; paranoia is a form of fear.

Paranoia is a form of illogical, delusional fear, driven by “baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others”. On a clinical psychological basis, it refers to “a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions and the projection of personal conflicts, which are ascribed to the supposed hostility of others, sometimes progressing to disturbances of consciousness and aggressive acts believed to be performed in self-defense or as a mission.” Either one sounds about right to describe Kosack’s description of student’s “fear”.

Kosack asserts, without foundation, that from the time the City Council voted to adopt the new ordinance, it had “become clear” that the City had “an ulterior motive”. The supposed “ulterior” motive was to publish the student housing business addresses on the Internet. Ulterior means “intentionally kept concealed” and in this context, she is claiming that the City kept hidden their intention to make the information public.

A review of the archived video from the July 12 City Council meeting shows Council Member Barry Fertel, the member who proposed the ordinance, ask how the public would access the information collected under the ordinance. Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill, the city’s lawyer who drafted the legislation, says “it would be public”. New Rochelle Development Commissioner Luiz Aragon adds “it would be online.” Not only was there no ulterior motive, but the supposed ulterior motive was openly discussed in a public meeting - that the information would be made public, online.

The registration form published by the City of New Rochelle on the Student Housing Business Registration Program states that the data collected in the form serves four purposes:

  • Create a comprehensive student housing directory
  • Protect the safety of students from overcrowding situations
  • Mitigate any negative impact of student housing on surrounding neighborhoods
  • Provide important contact information in the event of an emergency

Kosack cited an article published on Talk of the Sound on October 7, asserted there were “at least 15” registered sex offenders living in the area depicted on the Google map around Iona College and conflated the two by claiming without foundation that the list of addresses and Google map “could aid the efforts of any burglar or offender in the area.”

In her letter to the Mayor, Kosack offers two examples of supposed incidents since the article was published, attributing them both to the Talk of the Sound article. She says she knows a girl that told her that since the article was published “there has been an increase in the traffic of unknown persons in one of the locations” on the list. Also, she says knows a girl who says she knows a guy who says that he was “targeted” and “could only escape after a physical struggle with the offender”. She adds that the girl told her the guy told the other girl that the guy did not report the incident to police for several reasons - that she says the girl says he said he did not have a detailed description of “the offender”, that she says the girl says he said he is terrified of another assault, that she says the girl says he said he is uncertain whether the police would support him, that she says the girl says he said he is uncertain the police would accept the report.

Setting aside the third-hand and fourth-hand nature of the hearsay claims offered by Kosack as “proof” and the failure of the supposed “victims” to create a police report to document the claims or even the identify of the supposed “victims”, she fails to explain how the girl she says she knows would know there had been “an increase in the traffic of unknown persons”. This would appear to depend on this girl she says she knows logging information each day on the number of “unknown persons” walking in the area of her residence and then comparing the level of traffic in unknown persons before and after the Talk of the Sound article was published. This seems highly unlikely. Kosack fails to explain how the guy she says a girl says she knows would know he was “targeted” as a result of the Talk of the Sound article. Did he interview his assailant? Was the assailant carrying a copy of the Talk of the Sound article? There is no explanation for this claim of “targeting”.

In other words, these two examples of “crimes” resulting from the Talk of the Sound article are beyond absurd.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is our view that Iona College officials have cynically whipped some Iona students and their parents into a frenzy of imagined threats in order to preserve the status quo of illegal, sub-standard student housing which profits the college greatly at the expense of the entire New Rochelle community. There is no doubt that some of these people now do have some level of fear but we believe this fear is both unfounded (as do the New Rochelle Police Department and the City of New Rochelle and the City Council) and induced by college officials seeking the repeal of an ordinance they have come to believe will reduce the amount of tuition fees they can collect from students residing in off-campus housing. An impetus for the ordinance was a practice among some landlords to offer students sub-standard housing which violated building codes and fire codes and creating overcrowding situations. Unlike the paranoid delusions of some students, these threats are real. We offer a few examples, among many, to ponder in the meantime:

3 Dead in House Fire Near Marist College

Fire safety law rises from 2012 Marist tragedy

Since 2000, 86 fatal fires have been documented on college campuses, in fraternity housing or in off-campus housing within 3 miles of a campus — claiming 123 victims, according to a report in February from The Center for Campus Fire Safety, a Massachusetts-based group.

New Rochelle Fire Department Response to Carbon Monoxide Call Finds Illegal Apartments, Faulty Detectors, Very High Levels of CO

Firefighters responding to a report of carbon monoxide at a home located at 867 Weaver Street in New Rochelle on Friday encountered dangerously high levels of the poison gas throughout the inside of a house. An effort to locate the source of the carbon monoxide led to the discovery several illegal apartments inside the single-family home along with an illegal boiler, a blocked flue system and various illegal appliances hooked up throughout the house.

North End Homeowner Who Turned His Home into a Hotel Facing Stiff Sanctions from New Rochelle Building Department